The verdict delivered by the Sessions Court in Gadchiroli, Maharashtra – conviction and life-imprisonment for Maoist links – on Tuesday “was shocking” even to battle-weary Vasantha Saibaba, 51. “We will challenge this, of course,” she said. “Our lawyers told us there was a 99% chance he would be acquitted. We were told during the trial that there was no concrete evidence against him. This is an inhuman judgement and a sign of the state’s oppression.”
The case began in 2013, with a police raid at Saibaba’s Delhi University quarters. The police had alleged he was “an urban contact” for Maoists and that he was named by Hem Mishra, then a Jawaharlal Nehru University student, who was arrested at Gadchiroli shortly before the raid for serving as a courier. Mishra was one of the six who appeared before the court on Tuesday.
Vasantha Saibaba may head to Hyderabad, where she has family, for a short while. The couple’s daughter, 19 and a final-year student at a Delhi University college, may move in with a friend. On Tuesday, the pair, by themselves at their Delhi home, fielded constant phone calls from friends, Saibaba’s former colleagues and the media. Some activists dropped in, expressed their support and left to organise a protest.
“None of this has sunk in yet,” said Saibaba’s daughter. Unlike her parents – Vasantha Saibaba was active in women’s groups in the late-1990s – she is not an activist and hopes to collect an MA from Delhi University. “All of this began when I was still in school,” she explained.
But first, mother and daughter want to know what will be done to preserve Saibaba’s health in jail. By the time he set out for Gadchiroli on Monday, he had been taking “almost 10 pills a day”.
‘He must be in pain’Already 90% disabled and a wheelchair-user, Saibaba’s health problems were compounded by two stints at the Nagpur Central Jail over 2014-2016. He was first arrested and incarcerated in May 2014. In late June 2015, the Bombay High Court granted him temporary bail on medical grounds and he was released in July. This period had included a prolonged stay in the egg-shaped, highly restrictive “anda cell” and he left with heart disease, muscle-damage in one hand and shoulder and gall-stones. He went back in in December when the Bombay High Court cancelled bail and was released, this time granted bail by the Supreme Court, in April, 2016.
“A good part of his time outside jail has been spent on treatment,” said Vasantha Saibaba. On February 22, he complained of chest-pain and breathlessness. He was taken to a private hospital and admitted for a week, spending one day in an intensive-care unit. “He was diagnosed with infection in the pancreas and advised to get his gall-bladder operated once that cleared up,” she said. He also suffers from pain in the back. “He does not show it but the pain is constant,” she said. “Travelling from Nagpur to Gadchiroli and now, presumably on the way to jail in Nagpur, he must be in pain.” Her advocates, she said, had appealed for an order to ensure help was at hand for him but were not given one.
Fighting for reinstatementThe rest of his time in Delhi, Saibaba spent trying to get his job at Delhi University’s Ram Lal Anand College back. He had been suspended from the department of English, after his arrest, in May 2014. Once out on bail, he sought reinstatement which was supported by some teachers and students and opposed by others.
The college initiated an inquiry by a single-member committee, which is still underway. “In the third week of February the committee wrote to us asking for details – including invitations – of foreign travel over 10 years,” alleged Vasantha Saibaba. “They wanted to know about funds and the property we own. We got very little time to respond but we did. The college still extended his suspension for another 180 days.
She added: “The state wants to punish intellectuals and activists fighting violations of human rights. We learnt how to fight the state’s repression.”
This article was first published on Scroll.in